IN THE DAYS, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. And the twelve apostles called together the whole community of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables. Therefore, brothers and sisters, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the Word.” What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas, a proselyte from Antioch. They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. And the word of God continued to spread, the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests accepted the faith.
Christ is risen!
I would like to take a closer look at the two groups mentioned at the beginning of the reading - Hellenists and Hebrews.
Usually, Hellenists mean Greeks, but in this instance it is Greek-speaking Jews. And Hebrews are Hebrew-speaking Jews (or Aramaic-speaking, Hebrew is a dialect of Aramaic). The Hebrews were also the Jews who lived in Jerusalem, while Hellenists spoke primarily Greek because they lived in diaspora, meaning outside of Jerusalem, all over the Roman Empire.
The Jews of all sorts would come to Jerusalem for major feast days, such as Passover and Pentecost. The events described in the reading above happened after Pentecost, that Pentecost also became the Christian feast of Pentecost because that's when all the disciples received the Holy Spirit.
So, the Hellenists were in Jerusalem for the feast, they witnessed the disciples beginning to speak in different "languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them ability" (Acts 2:4). And "each one (of the crowd) heard them (disciples) speaking in the native language of each" (Acts 2:6). The Hellenists, just like the Hebrews, witnessed the disciples performing miracles of healing, or rather Christ performing those miracles through His disciples. They also heard the proclamation of the Gospel by the disciples, so that thousands of people were baptized and received into the Church, the Body of Christ.
That's how the first Christian communities were formed in Jerusalem, and both the Hellenists (Greek-speaking Jews) and the Hebrews (Jews from Jerusalem) were the first converts. And the Hellenists, at least initially, did not return to their homes in diaspora, but stayed in Jerusalem. The practice of these first Christians was to commit all of their possessions to the community. The elders (usually the apostles) of the community would make sure to take care of everyone in the community, so that nobody was hungry or cold or without shelter or alone. If anything was left over, then they made sure to help the non-Christians (which was very unusual at that time because each tribe took care only of their own and neglected the outsiders).
However, a conflict arose between the Hellenists and the Hebrews - the widows of the former were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. Now, remember the Hellenists, even though Jews themselves, were outsiders, they were not locals. Like it happens very often among people, the locals tend to pay more attention to their own at the expense of the outsiders.
In the Body of Christ, there are no outsiders and locals, if we are part of His Body, then we are one community, we do not differentiate. So the elders, the apostles, had to step in and fix this conflict.
It's hard to say whether the Hebrews neglected the widows of the Hellenists on purpose or not. It could be a simple thing where you pay more attention to the people you already know, only because they are familiar to you. But this episode also reminds us one thing and sets an example of proper conduct, especially in the time of quarantine.
We are reminded not to divide the people into "us and them" categories. It is very easy to do so, especially here in America. We can divide the people into Christian and non-Christian, or Orthodox and non-Orthodox, or local Orthodox and old-country Orthodox, or right and left. In the Church of Christ, we are either all part of one community or we are not.
And the example it sets is that of Christian charity. I am glad to hear that our parishioners help each other in these trying times. At the beginning of the quarantine, I made a few announcements about forming a team of helpers in case anyone needs help with grocery shopping, meal preparation or anything else. Quite a few of you replied and we have a team on standby. We haven't had anyone ask for help yet, but we are ready. At the same time, some of you, from what I heard, are helping each other, which is great.
I am sure you do not need this reminder, but just in case you do, if you can, extend your helping hand to anyone else who needs it. Do it for the glory of Christ's Gospel. You do not have to go out and preach Him with words, you can do it with your actions. The people we help do not have to be Orthodox, or even Christian, or anything else. There is a slogan going around right now, "We are in this together," not by our own choice, but we are. There are no locals and outsiders, there are only people who deserve our love and care.
And once again, if you or anyone you know needs anything, let us know. We will help in whatever way we can.
Christ is risen!
Indeed He is risen!
For last year's reflection, where I discuss the reading from other perspectives, click here.
Yours in the risen Lord,
Father Aleksey - your friendly Singac priest